To London again this week for the British Library and yet more issues of Co-operative News, an invaluable source both for shop openings and general discussions – about advertising for instance – in the co-op movement. For a bit of light relief I went along to the Bow Road in Poplar, to photograph a 1919 Stratford Co-operative and Industrial Society store; it still functions as a supermarket, although not a co-op. It has a rather splendid beehive on its pediment, so well detailed that the individual bees and the hive’s structure are clearly visible. It’s near the Bow Church DLR station (and not far from Bow Road tube). If you happen to visit, don’t miss the former Poplar Town Hall (1937-8) just across the road, a smashing modernist building with sculptures in socialist realist style of various building labourers, and also mosaics above the councillors’ entrance. But you must cross the road to see the best bit, as there is a lovely mosaic design of the Thames and docklands beneath the entrance canopy, presumably to inspire the members as they looked up when entering the building!
Towards the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s the CWS Architects’ Department was very keen on incorporating public artworks, often large-scale murals, into their buildings. Several examples are shown in their book Co-operative Architecture 1945-1959, including the surviving ceramic tile mural in the town square at Stevenage (it now fronts Primark), a figurative work representing the spirit of co-operation by the CWS’ own designer, G Bajo. Into the 1960s and mosaics came to the fore; still with us are the colourful semi-abstract on the Ipswich co-op buildings (1962, unknown artist) and the massive graphic abstract glass mosaic on the former Hull emporium (1963, commissioned from Alan Boyson) which hopefully will be retained in future developments. There were many more, but I thought rebuilding and weathering had seen the end of all the others. But no! Just rediscovered in the north of England is this large (three plate glass windows wide) mosaic abstract, part of the 1963 building which was then the largest co-op pharmacy department store in the country (I’m not sure whether that’s England or the UK), presumably rivalling Boots and suchlike. Inside, the store is rather grand, a broad central stair descending to a large lower ground area, and twin side stairs reaching up to a gallery-cum-mezzanine, all very spacious; it’s not a co-op, but is still a functioning shop and almost exactly as it was originally laid out. The mosaic faces north, and is best seen in midsummer rather than winter when the light is from the rear, but it has survived amazingly well – a little conservation/restoration work and it would look terrific. Again, the artist is unknown. Overall, the shop is an absolute gem. How many more of these are out there I wonder?
One of the many curious things about the relationship between the CWS and the (at one time) thousands of local co-operative societies relates to the CWS Architects’ Department. Local co-op societies could use it rather than the array of (normally) locally-based architects and the societies’ own building departments to provide plans for new stores and whatever else was required. But even though the CWS architects were available from the very late 19th century onward, by no means all local societies used them, much (one guesses from editorials in some of the CWS publications) to the annoyance of the central department. But look, for instance, at this photo of the Doncaster co-op emporium and offices, built 1938-40 right in the town centre and still in use (partly at least) as a shop today, although not as a co-op. The design, all curvy modernist streamlined lines, moderne even, was by the local architectural practice T H Johnson & Son. Why look further afield when you can get something this good locally? In addition, local architects, especially earlier in the 20th century, were often members of the local co-operative society themselves. The Derby central emporium, designed by Sidney Bailey in 1938 but only completed after the war, is another good modernist example produced locally. The CWS architects did some great stuff too, but it is easy to see why a specific local society would want to keep up its long-term relationship with its ‘own’ (as they were often referred to) architect.
No reindeer on the Christmas photo this year, instead a shot of 1 Angel Square, the Co-operative Group’s HQ in Manchester, all seasonally lit up. Not posted much recently as knee-deep in archival notes for the co-operative architecture book, many taken at the National Co-operative Archive, just round the corner from Angel Square. Although it seems a long way hence, spring 2019 is actually not so far when thinking in research and writing terms. I look forward to the longer days of spring and summer when I can take more photos for the book, as well as staring at volumes of Co-operative News and the like! So a Merry Co-op Christmas to those who have chanced upon this page, and the happiest of New Years.
In Scotland last weekend to take various co-op photos (although really Scotland won’t feature a great deal in the co-op architecture book) as well as looking round the Verdant Works in Dundee. So here is doubtless one of very many wheatsheaves which I expect to see over the next few years, this one indicating the lovely art deco former co-op bakery at Stonehaven, near Aberdeen. Not sure if this is ceramic tile or enamel, probably the former. Similar signs show a cow or bull’s head, a basket of grocery and a pestle and mortar. The little row of shops connects with the even more wonderfully art deco Carron Restaurant to the rear, originally opened by the local co-op in 1937 and now functioning again (privately) after restoration. The second photo relates to my last book on industrial architecture, and shows the huge Cox’s Stack at Dundee’s Camperdown Works (jute of course) seen from above at the Law, a volcanic plug which looks down over the city. Quite a treat to see the chimney from above after staring up at it when trying to fit it into a photo from ground level. Liverpool next for more photos.
This is the first of what I hope will be many blogs on the architecture of the co-operative movement; the image is a detail of the Unity Works in Wakefield, as it is known in its newly (mostly, work is ongoing) restored state. It was built by Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society from 1876 onward as Unity House, and came to include several shops and a splendidly large Great Hall with wonderful stained glass including pics of beehives. The wheatsheaf and the beehive constantly crop up in co-op imagery. Co-op buildings ranged from the better known shops and emporiums through warehouses and many factories to mills and much more. There’s still interest in these buildings now, especially the shops (just look on any photo sharing website), but the loss of most of the factories and warehouses has left the retail premises without the distribution network which supplied them. Fortunately there are many fine buildings still with us, not just in what might be called the co-op’s northern heartlands, but throughout the country. As for the Unity Works, lovely architecture aside it is well worth a visit, with a great café.
Briefly in Edinburgh this week, I enjoyed tea and cake at the café in the City Art Centre, with its lively mural (1980) by William Crosbie (1915-99). The design is perfect for its setting, and Crosbie himself supervised the mural’s restoration in the late 1990s. Sadly, as you can see from the photo, the mural is now in rather a sorry state, with parts blistering and paint coming off. It is certainly a difficult environment for a mural, with lots of steam and similar tea-making activities taking place. Let’s hope it can be re-restored and last for at least another couple of decades.